Andy Goldsworthy Sculpture in San Francisco Is Damaged by Fire

SAN FRANCISCO — A soaring wood spire by artist Andy Goldsworthy in the Presidio national park that has proved popular with art-seekers and nature-lovers alike was damaged by fire early Tuesday morning. The fire was quickly extinguished but the sculpture was extensively charred.

The Presidio Trust, which was examining the work’s condition, was also waiting for the results of a fire department investigation to determine a cause.

“It’s confusing and dismaying to imagine that someone would vandalize a work that celebrates our connection to nature at a time when we need it the most — to buoy our spirits and provide solace,” said Cheryl Haines of the For-Site Foundation, who commissioned the artwork for the Presidio in 2008. But she said arson was a distinct possibility given the “current unrest in the city” and the number of people in the past “who have commented that the piece would make a very dramatic campfire or conflagration.”

Reached by phone in Penpont, Scotland, the artist said that when he first saw images of the artwork, “Spire,” in flames on Twitter, he assumed it had been completely destroyed. “It seemed impossible that anything could have survived that inferno, but in fact later images showed the timbers to be more intact that I thought,” he said. “I suspect the bark has been peeling off for the 12 years it has been there and worked as tinder.” He noted that a Bay Area engineer involved with the original construction of the work was planning to assess any structural damage.

While the artist has a habit of making highly ephemeral works, for example making sculpture out of leaves or twigs designed to float or blow away, this sculpture was built to have a longer — though still unpredictable — life cycle. Made out of unhealthy Monterey Cypress trees that were felled as part of a larger reforestation plan, it rises 100 feet, easily surpassing the young trees nearby. But Mr. Goldsworthy envisioned it one day possibly being subsumed by the forest surrounding it, making it a rather dynamic and impermanent monument.

“In many ways these bigger projects are more vulnerable than my ephemeral works,” he offered. “The ephemeral work is finished the moment you make it — it decays, blows away or shrivels. But here finishing the work is the beginning of its life, and you just don’t know what kind of life it’s going to have.”

There could be an unusual upside, though. The fire might have reduced insect infestations in the wood. Also, the artist said: “The charring of timber is a preservative in itself. There is a possibility that the structure will come out of this even stronger.”

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